Belfast Telegraph

Chelsea still in title race, says Ancelotti

Carlo Ancelotti insisted Chelsea are not out of the Barclays Premier League title race despite watching them throw away a crucial two points in today's breathless 3-3 draw against Aston Villa.

But the Blues boss admitted this afternoon's result, which left his side outside the top four, meant they must beat Manchester United in March to stand any hope of retaining the championship.

Failure to see off Villa left Chelsea marooned in fifth place, six points behind United having played a game more.

While a slip-up from their unbeaten arch-rivals in not impossible, it is highly unlikely Manchester City, Arsenal and Tottenham will all press the self-destruct button.

Ancelotti said after Wednesday's ugly win over Bolton that Chelsea's title defence would have been over had they failed to end their worst run of league results for 11 years - but he was defiant today.

"It's not over because we are improving and I think that we can say something again this season," he said, pointing out United had to win their game in hand to go nine points clear.

"First, they have to win. Second, I think that the gap is not a light gap at this moment. But everything is open again.

"Obviously, we have to beat them here, and we can say something again about the title."

Today's result put Ancelotti's position under fresh scrutiny after Wednesday night's ugly 1-0 win over Bolton had eased the pressure on the Italian.

At least Chelsea avoided defeat, a prospect that looked highly likely six minutes from time against a Villa side that had largely outplayed them.

Trailing 2-1 after Ashley Young's penalty and Emile Heskey's header had cancelled out Frank Lampard's spot-kick, the home side thought they had won it when Didier Drogba and John Terry found the net.

Terry's goal sparked wild celebrations as Chelsea's players mobbed Ancelotti, but the joy was short-lived as Ciaran Clark levelled in stoppage-time.

Ancelotti said: "I think that we had a fantastic reaction second half, we played very well, with a lot of energy, with a good spirit.

"And when we thought that the game was won, we lost two points at the last situation.

"For this reason, I'm disappointed because at this moment, when we needed to win, it was our fault because I think we were not able to maintain concentration until the end."

Ancelotti denied his players had paid for over-celebrating, saying: "I think that it was not over-celebration. It was a good reaction after the goal.

"The last goal, yes, it was a mistake, because we conceded an easy cross and we didn't mark in the box."

He also played down an argument between Terry and Drogba at the final whistle, saying: "Everything is okay."

The draw eased the pressure on Villa boss Gerard Houllier, whose side had lost six of their last seven games in all competitions.

"We showed character, we showed bravery, we didn't bottle it, we played," he said.

"At 2-1, we knew that Chelsea would throw everything at us to equalise and, in fairness, they did.

"I would've been extremely disappointed if we didn't get anything from this game, but really for the players.

"Because I thought that, in fairness, they had done enough to at least get a draw."

Houllier also hit out at rumours of dressing-room unrest at Villa Park following Tuesday's 4-0 thrashing at Manchester City.

"I've read so many things that really stun me, that are nothing to do with the truth," he said.

"Sometimes a player who is not playing calls his agent and his agent calls the press.

"You can't make a game like that and get a result and particularly react like that if you don't have some togetherness.

"Probably we gave in too early at Manchester City, but that's the past."

The result made amends somewhat for last season's 7-1 thrashing at Stamford Bridge, with Villa owner Randy Lerner celebrating as wildly as Chelsea's players had done earlier.

"I think he wanted to make a result as well, probably," said Houllier.

"Last year, unfortunately, he was here."

Today's game did prove costly in one respect, however, with Villa's seven yellow cards set to see them hit with a £25,000 Football Association fine.

Houllier joked: "I'll pay if necessary!"

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